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Substance prompts Grad Center investigation

A HAZMAT team searched the building after an unidentified substance was found in an envelope

One person has been hospitalized following exposure to an unidentified substance found in an envelope opened Thursday afternoon in Graduate Center Tower E, which houses administrative offices and the Bear’s Lair.

Eight additional people have reported symptoms of “respiratory irritation,” such as watery eyes and runny noses, said James Mirza, deputy assistant chief of the Providence Fire Department.

Providence Police arrived on the scene at 4:11 p.m., blocking off Thayer Street between Grad Center and Vartan Gregorian Quadrangle with yellow “hazardous substance” tape and evacuating the surrounding areas.

“The objective was to treat and remove victims and isolate the contaminated areas,” Mirza said.

The envelope was sealed and taken from the scene by HAZMAT crewmembers, Mirza said. Its contents will be evaluated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the state laboratory, he said.

Testing suspicious materials can take “a few days,” said Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the Boston bureau of the FBI.

“Should there be a threat to public safety, the public will be informed promptly,” he said. Initial testing of the substance “indicated there was no immediate threat to public safety,” he added.

The identities of the victims have not been released, Mirza said, but he added that those affected were a mix of staff members and students.

“All individuals in the vicinity were evaluated according to health and safety protocols,” wrote Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Marisa Quinn. “As a precaution, offices in Tower E have been evacuated.”

The evacuated areas were reopened by 6:40 p.m., with the exception of the room where the envelope was originally opened.

Providence police officers will continue to investigate the incident, Quinn wrote.


—With reporting by Elizabeth Koh


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